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Intelligence Led Policing: Ethical Issues

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1234 words Published: 2nd Aug 2018

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The second important report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary set out the main elements of intelligence led policing and crime reduction “Policing With Intelligence” (HMIC, 1997).

Both report accepted the use of intelligence led policing tactics in crime reduction of high volume crimes such as vehicle theft and burglary which so far had only been used in tackling serious crime.

The use of information technology was seen as the major vehicle and conduit for managing the increased information generated as a result of a change in policy to intelligence led policing. The increasing fear in the community about crime and the fear of crime, coupled with a loss of confidence in the police, fuelled a drive towards an increase in private security arrangements. This move is seen in the growth of private security companies both residential and in shopping centres, initiated by both private citizens, commercial premises owners and insurance companies.

The desire and practice of amassing information resulted as part of the increase in the risk society (Maguire, 2000), but increased information and data does not necessarily lead to crime reduction.

Although the police may benefit from access to huge amounts of statistical data, some academics have suggested that the impetus for this has in fact emanated from other external institutions such as health, insurance and education establishments (Ericson and Haggerty, 1997). The data processed by the police has been used by these establishments for their own risk assessment purposes rather than being used for crime reduction purposes.

The recent requirement for the police service to produce annual and other reports and publishing key performance indicators which required statistical returns was another fundamental reason for the computerisation of criminal records. In fact some commentators argue that the computer systems are barely used in the fight against crime reduction (Ratcliffe and McCullalgh, 1998).

The unease which the police feel about the drive towards intelligence-led policing is set out in a report on Merseyside Police (Barton & Evans, 2001). This research was undertaken over a twelve month period from April 1996 to April 1997. It uncovered that an intelligence-led approach was adopted for all key service areas and not just crime with an emphasis on the importance of circulating intelligence and focusing on the role of intelligence-led crime prevention strategies. The implementation of the new policy was achieved by the introduction of crime management units, force intelligence systems and a force intelligence bureau.??

In evaluating the new systems, the researchers were hindered because statistical data standardised across areas was not available. However based on a mixture of observation and talking to various officers, the researchers concluded that some areas of the process worked well whilst others displayed shortcomings.

The obstacles to the new policy lay in different officers’ comprehension of “proactivity” with only limited training offered; no distinction between information and intelligence; no consistency of tasking meetings whose purpose was to increase intelligence gathering in each area; the diverting of officers onto reactive investigations.


The use of informers is seen as particularly valuable in crime investigation strategies. In a publication issued ten years ago the Audit Commission stated that informants are “the life blood of CIA” and have been vocal in calling for their increased use in the fight against crime (Giddens, 2004). Informants have been in use by the British police for many years and is sometimes referred to as the second oldest profession

The use of informers is fraught with complex connotations particularly around the integrity of the information received from them in the light of their motivation.

An increase in intelligence-led policing has led to the traditional police-informer relationship being modernised and put on a professional footing. The modern term for engaging with informants is human source capability whereby the police can capture and utilise the knowledge and skill of those persons in society who have access to the criminal element within the community via an organised and structured HSC framework. It has been argued that there has been a dearth in the use of informants outside the sphere of organised crime (Innes, 2000).

With the advent of intelligence-led policing the police-informer relationship has moved to a more sophisticated professional and ethical system in respect of both recruitment and management of sources. The introduction in the UK of specific source handling units and HSM units in certain police areas have advanced a more professional approach to intelligence gathering.

The relationship between police and sources remains a highly controversial area of law enforcement. In particular when participant informers are encouraged to commit crime due to their particular relationship with the police, major concern is expressed (Billingsley) A participant informer is one who is permitted to carry on committing a crime so that the police can identify those main participants involved in organising the criminal activity.

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Research shows that some police officers have a tendency to rely very heavily on informants and to condone various criminal acts undertaken by some of their sources. If the use of informants becomes prolific it undermines the whole criminal investigation process as it is shrouded in secrecy, and intrigue and somewhat lacking in legitimacy itself, undermining the precept of transparency and openess within the police service and compromising the adage that justice must be seen to be done. Additionally some relationships between officers and their sources are seen as unhealthy involving the controlling of sources by selective distribution of information by police officers handling the informants. (Cooper and Murphy, 20??). The potential harm to police legitimacy given the ethical difficulties posed by the police/informer relationship has been highlighted by several commentators, (Dunningham and Norris, 1999).

Dealing with informants often places police officers in invidious circumstances. The police officer has to balance their official duties to detect and reduce crime with a moral obligation to be above bribery and corruption. They also have various official duties and all of these obligations need to be balanced when dealing in the slightly murky world of the criminal underworld with its temptations and people who would benefit from an officer’s downfall. Nothing it seems can be taken at face value when dealing with informants. In his study of Melbourne police informers Settle noted the wide discrepancy between the legal and the actual position of the police/informer relationship.

“Police are expected to be accountable to the law for their methods whilst at the same time are under pressure to maintain order pragmatically” (Settle, 1995 p.3) Basically this means that their actions must be justified in legalistic terms but such terms are at variance with several of the informal practices used in crime control such as informants.


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